Words Matter – Anatomy and Genesis of a Winning Argument

(9AM~ – promoted by RiaD)

There was this great essay the other day by Diane W: Code Talking White Trash & Exploitation Capitalism that is a must read for some uplifting real life political action.

Her framing used in the discussion was extremely interesting to me, as Diane NAILED it.  Here's some analysis of her framing from a comment I posted on her essay:

Initial Analysis 

There is NOT economic parity nor economic equal chance in this country. I have studied the actual demographics. The middle class is gone, honey, and 90% of the wealth in this country is now in 1% of the hands. There are no jobs. All these divisionary tactics keep us blaming eachother instead of the real problem. Greed. The haves and the have-nots.

  • Fairness
  • Opportunity
  • Community/Empathy

I'll give you American Axle as an example. Those hard-working factory people, men and women who may have given as much as 30 years of their lives working their butts off, just took a 50% pay cut. Now the houses and student loans and their lifestyles had reflected a certain base pay, a pay no longer available to them. What happens to the broader market when all those people are foreclosed upon, because the money is no longer there? Are you going to yell “bootstraps” at all these workers?

  • Fairness
  • Opportunity
  • Community/Empathy

When there are no jobs, neighborhoods die, stores close, people move away, schools have no tax-base. In the meantime GM exec's make 100 times what the factory workers who actually do the work make, and they send those jobs to goddamned Vietnam. Opportunity Empathy This is a class war. Husbands can't support their families, women have to work, kids have to become latch-key kids… Thats whats wrong with America!

A solution: No darling, at one time Lee Iaccoca took NO salary for a few years, probably cashed in one of his Lears to survive it, to keep his company up and running, to make sure workers could afford the cars they made. 

  • Responsibility
  • Accountability
  • Empathy 

The PROBLEM isn't those people, the problem is the greed of the rich.

This conversation is OVER.

I love the conclusion. It's a done deal. 

This is also interesting because it flies in the face of Lakoffian (is that a word?) frame construction… Values first, then metaphor…It pulls the metaphor first, the illustration of the values.

I think this is the way that frames should be built. Once you have the illustrations, you deconstruct them pull out the values and improve and expand upon the illustrations that are similarly well understood and emotive.

I really love this, Diane. It has taught me a lot. I usually demonize Iococca because of the Pinto and accountability and responsibility, but you've tapped into the nostalgia and base assumptions that were in play during his success.

It's great.




If you look at what's going on here, Diane is invoking the bedrock Progressive Values of:

  • Fairness
  • Opportunity
  • Community/Empathy

She's suggesting that the lack of these values is our problem and she gives solid, fact based yet emotive, real life examples of the lack of these values in our society. These problems are undeniable and can be felt and seen by most any middle class American.

The solution, laid out with the example of Lee Iococca, a bootstrapper himself, IIRC, combines our society's missing values that Diane cites as part of the problem and adds a couple of bedrock Conservative Values: Accountability and Responsibility, that are also missing in our society (actually they're not missing they're just applied to the have nots, but that's beside the point…).

Combining the Progressive Values of fairness, Opportunity and Community/Empathy with the Conservative Values of Accountability and Responsibility is a seriously strong conclusion to the argument.

Rhetorical Ju-jitsu

Activating the Progressive Values first with concrete emotive language and real life situations then finishing with the bedrock conservative values and a conservative icon's personal story of sacrifice for the common good is just brilliant. It touches everyone. It trancends right and left, Conservative and Progressive and lumps us all into one camp. 

I've said some rotten things about the rotten things Lee Iococca (and other CEO types) has done. This is probably the first time that I've not jumped on someone touting the greatness of Iococca online. This argument shut me up. Quite impressive!

I think the usage of Iococca and the invocation of Conservative Values and a Conservative cultural icon is a great technique for bridging the gap in understanding and crafting an effective argument. I don't think that we on the left do that very often. 

If I had to guess, I'd bet this kind of conclusion to an argument would have the same result as Bush invoking Freedom for his war. It feels like theft to the left. I get so pissed off! I can't seem to speak out against it without invoking the frame. It's a great trap.

Conservatives lay out Right Wing Frames and Right Wing Values, then resolve the argument with good old fashion liberal values and rhetoric. Tying it all up in one neat little package. They do it often enough that those RW values and Frames start to creep into the liberal consciousness and we start to embrace them as our own values. Conservatives tie us up with our own belief system and makes us tear our philosophy apart in order to continue the argument.

After reading Diane W and doing this analysis, I will be looking for more conservative values to invoke in resolution to my arguments. I think it is a HUGE concept and could really help us create persuasive arguments that reach across the political spectrum. 

Thanks Diane!




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    • k9disc on July 26, 2008 at 10:51
    • RiaD on July 26, 2008 at 14:44

    thank you  

    • k9disc on July 26, 2008 at 16:31

    Let’s forget about the fact that we invaded Iraq under false pretenses – there were no WMDs.

    Let’s forget about the fact that we were not greeted as liberators after the statue fell.

    I’m sure that many Iraqis were quite happy to be rid of that monster Saddam Huessein, but let’s face it, Abu Ghraib didn’t go away, it just operated under a different flag.

    We defeated their military, captured and executed the evil Saddam Huessein and helped create a new government and draft a new constitution. Violence has dropped and the Iraqi government wants to step up to the plate and take care of their own business.  

    We’re throwing away our treasure right and left and trashing our military, not to mention our global reputation trying to occupy a country that doesn’t want us there.

    The ‘mission’ has been accomplished for some time now, but we seem to be unable to see that the remaining tasks are the Iraqi people’s business, and not our responsibility.

    When Ronald Reagan invaded Grenada to overthrow a dictator and to prevent Russia and Cuba from threatening the United States, he knew what to do after the military mission was accomplished. He got all the soldiers out in 18 months and let the people of Grenada take control of their country.

    Reagan didn’t get bogged down in occupying Grenada, he let them do their thing and set his sights on the rest of the evil empire.

    The wall fell several years later.

    Anyone want to play devil’s advocate on this silly argument?

    I feel like such a Conservative.

  1. has become the norm. I think a lot of the reason is because the left has accepted as the truth the fiction of the center. The belief that all political discussion has to be aimed at a mythical voter/citizen who is a rabid combination of ignorant, bigoted and militaristic. Hillary’s bragging about the uneducated white vote comes to mind.

    This entrenched view was obvious to me when canvasing in the primary. People were worried about voting for anyone who did not appeal to these mythical voters, the other guy. At some point ‘liberal’ became a dirty word. Reagan? Yesterday a member of The Civil Liberties Union came to my door to get a donation. We started taking politics and he told me that if Obama did not go to the center he would lose as ‘working’ Americans were rightwing.  

    I believe that the Democratic Party helped create and abets this. Our frames official all seem geared not to offend the rabid right’s most base negative qualities. The % you read about which has dictated our politics for the last three decades. When you address most people on a one to one basis they have more shared values then not. As my right wing son said of Obama who he surprisingly likes. ‘He’s a liberal mom and he’s a good one. He has real values, he’s not afraid to talk about them’

    Bush won in part because he seemed to have core values, he stuck to his stances which were seen as authentic. Let’s hope that we learn not to accept the pols, consultants  and media’s version of our national psyche, and take back the values which are positive and beyond the politics of fear and division. Great essay.    

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